Published: Sep 30, 2007

In the lead-up to Suharto's reappointment as president in March 1998, there is more speculation than ever about the future of Indonesian politics, in particular the issue of the presidential succession. Short of Suharto following the Chinese pattern of gerontocracy, it seems that this will indeed be the term of office in which Indonesia's leadership changes hands. Despite the constraints of Indonesia's political society, a couple of trends are becoming increasingly clear. Since the split between a significant section of Abri and Suharto in the late 1980s, the armed forces has manoeuvred to ensure that it will still be a key player in the post-Suharto period. There have also been moves by members of Suharto's family to more closely integrate themselves into the political system, either via political appointments or by forming alliances with political and military figures. And there is broad agreement that the general structure of the economy must be maintained. It is this latter which has brought together competing interests and which is most shaping the post-Suharto period. Nearly all political players in Indonesia recognise that, in the volatile period immediately after Suharto, economic collapse could tip Indonesia into political chaos. No one wants a return to the cathartic blood-letting of the period after 1 October 1965, when Sukarno began to be pushed from office. While Suharto has been off-side with a significant section of Abri since the late 1980s, no overt challenge is likely to come from that quarter, for three reasons. Abri wants to preserve the mystique of authority, Suharto may have struck a deal with a group within Abri just ahead of the convening of the MPR in March 1998, and any challenge by Abri is not guaranteed to succeed.

Red and white

Many observers identify Abri as being split into two main, competing groups, being the pro-Islamic, pro-Suharto 'green' faction, and the generally anti-Suharto 'red and white' faction. The 'red and white' faction is that which is poised to take a dominant role in the post-Suharto period. Within these two broad camps are 'clusters' of power and patronage, forming and dividing over a range of issues and alliances. Within the 'red and white' faction, a group of five individuals comprises the core of perhaps the most important 'cluster' and is the one most likely to influence the post-Suharto period. This group is referred to by Golkar insiders as the Pendawa Lima, or the five Pendawas, referring to the knights (satria) in the Hindu-derived Mahabarata epic of old Java. These satria represent noble Javanese behaviour and were key players in the battle with the mythological Kurawa faction. ThePendawa Lima has established links with many of the major players in Indonesia, is powerful within Abri and is young enough to carry its vision for Indonesia into the 21st Century.

Yudhoyono

The most notable of the Pendawa Lima is Maj-Gen Bambang Yudhoyono, who was regional commander of South Sumatra before being moved to become Assistant for Abri Social and Political Affairs in July 1997. The role of Abri's Social and Political office is to advise on policy and manage the secondment of Abri staff to government positions. This placed Yudhoyono in a central position from which to influence Abri policy on its role in government. More importantly, Yudhoyono is seen as being the intellectual leader of a rising group of younger senior officers. Yudhoyono was touted as a possible vice-presidential candidate, but in any case is expected to wield considerable political power in any post-Suharto environment. His open political career could start after the post-Suharto period has already gotten under way.

Hendropriyono

The next Pendawa is former Jakarta military commander Maj-Gen Hendropriyono, who is especially close to Vice-President Try Sutrisno and to Suharto's son Bambang Trihatmojo. Through his link with Hendropriyono, Bambang is helping to ensure that his own personal fortune is not jeopardised in a post-Suharto shake-up. Hendropriyono was also influential in having Megawati Sukarnoputri elected as chairman of the PDI in 1993, explicitly against Suharto's wishes. This damaged Hendropriyono's standing with Suharto, got him thrown out of the Jakarta command in 1994, but put him in good standing with many army colleagues and ensured that he would play an influential role in any post-Suharto political process.

Wiranto

Lt-Gen Wiranto is another, especially well placed member of this group, having replaced Hartono as the head of the army and possibly being positioned to leap-frog to head Abri. Wiranto, a Suharto adjutant from 1989 until 1993, continues to be trusted by Suharto, even though he has links with 'red and white' officers who are not so favourably disposed towards Suharto. In this sense, Wiranto has the potential to act as a bridge between disaffected senior Abri officers and Suharto. Wiranto could be relied upon to ensure that, in the period after Suharto, Abri does not get drawn into political disputation and either participates, as it did in 1965-66, or, worse, splits along factional lines and fights within itself. Wiranto is seen by some as a suitable replacement for Try Sutrisno as vice-president, given his high standing within Abri and his still good links with Suharto. Wiranto is also originally from Yogyakarta, close to where Suharto grew up, and shares a similar sense of the type of propriety favoured by Suharto. Wiranto's move to the vice-presidency would not be unpopular within Abri and would place him in a strong position to make a bid for the presidency in a post-Suharto environment.

Agum Gumelar

The head of the military district of South Sulawesi, Maj-Gen Agum Gumelar, is number four of the five Pendawa. Agum is a trusted colleague of the other four, being closely associated with Hendropriyono in having Megawati elected to the PDI chairmanship For his trouble he was replaced as commander of Kopassus. His elevation to Sulawesi regional commander in 1996 confirmed, however, that his star is not in permanent decline.

Farid Zainuddin

The fifth colleague in this group is Maj-Gen Farid Zainuddin, who headed military intelligence, the BIA (Badan Intelijen Abri), from late 1996. During Benny Murdani's period as Commander-in-Chief of Abri, military intelligence assumed an important role in political affairs, even though Suharto and Feisal moved to downgrade it in the wake of Murdani's dismissal, first from the army and then from cabinet. As head of BIA, Farid was in charge of strategic and internal security intelligence collection and analysis, counterintelligence, special operations and the security aspects of international relations. It was a most powerful position within Abri. Farid was also associated with Hendropriyono in supporting Megawati for the PDI chairmanship. In August 1997 Farid was replaced by Maj Gen Zacky Anwar Makarim, who is also close to Hendropriyono. Each of the Pendawa Lima is associated with five individual Pendawa from whom they derive their collective name. Yudhoyono is identified with the most famous Pendawa, Arjuna, Wiranto with Kresna (powerful first cousin to Arjuna), Hendropriyono with Gatotkaca, Agum with Yudistira and Farid with Abimanyu.

Murdani

The Pendawa Lima are closely identified with Defence Minister Edi Sudrajat, and through him to Murdani. Through Sudrajat they are also associated with Suharto's son Bambang Trihatmojo. Sudrajat has a number of international links, aimed at ensuring future foreign investment. Beyond that, the group has links to a number of major Indonesian investors, ensuring a ready supply of funds should it be needed. To further cement this group's linkages, Murdani, a Catholic, is also holding out an accommodation to Indonesia's Islamic community. In particular, the NU's Abdurrahman Wahid is very close to this group, ensuring a significant bloc of Islamic support for the group as well as ensuring the NU's future political influence. An associate of Murdani said that in 1989 he made Suharto an offer to preserve his children's business interests, if Suharto agreed to leave office soon. By 1993 that agreement had expired, and there were a number of incidents which marked the bitter rancour between Suharto and Murdani at that time. More recently, though, it seems that some officers close to Murdani have begun to negotiate another deal with Suharto about the succession. The idea, then, is to preserve the status quo.

No democratisation

After Suharto there is unlikely to be substantive change in Indonesia's political make-up. Indonesia's economy cannot afford the shock of a serious flight of capital, which would come with a wholesale clean-up of questionable businesses. Nor could it cope with a serious drop in foreign investment that would follow radical political change. This effectively precludes more broad political participation, or 'democratisation', although there could be moves to acknowledge some pro-democracy concerns. These might include the divestment or floating of some proportion of the major conglomerates (such as Suharto's daughter Tutut's toll roads), a redirection of some development funds towards health, housing and education projects, and a brief period of greater freedom of expression. This last point would be encouraged where it offers a criticism of the previous government, which would assist in legitimising the new government. The person who succeeds Suharto as president might not occupy that position for long, perhaps being acceptable only until a more appropriate candidate can be groomed. But however it is analysed, there is no optimistic scenario for those who have pinned their hopes on Indonesia's eventual democratisation.

Damien Kingsbury is the author of 'The politics of Indonesia', to be published by Oxford University Press in early 1998. Readers interested in the Pendawa will enjoy Ben Anderson, 'Mythology and the tolerance of the Javanese', Cornell University, 1965.

Inside Indonesia 53: Jan-Mar 1998